Kids today are just so overwhelmed with 'stuff'. Playrooms are packed to the rafters with toys, and every birthday and Christmas just adds to the pile.
When my children were born, I really wanted to make an effort to not get caught up in the endless consumerism – both to save my sanity and to also give them a realistic expectation of what kids should have in their lives. I want my children to understand that not everyone is born into such good fortune. I also want them to know that having means more than just the material – it includes friends, family and community.
Birthdays seemed like the perfect opportunity to try and teach these lessons. For my son Liam’s first three birthdays, it was easy to ask friends and family to make a donation to a charity on his behalf in lieu of gifts since he was so young and didn’t feel like he was missing out. But when he turned four, I figured he was at an age where he wanted to be like his friends and get presents at his birthday party. We came up with a compromise; he chose two gifts from his party to give to a local shelter. I was surprised – and proud – at how easygoing he was about the whole thing. This year, for his fifth birthday, I wondered if he would be open to the idea of only getting presents from his family and letting his friends contribute money to a charity.
We chatted about kids who don’t get presents – and even lack the basics – and he felt very happy about letting his friends help out a less fortunate family. I have been a long-time supporter of Plan Canada (formerly Foster Parents Plan). I have even had the pleasure of traveling to Vietnam to visit the child we sponsored through Plan and to see first-hand the work the organization is doing.
Plan Canada has an amazing Gifts of Hope catalogue, which is full of gifts to help support projects overseas. Liam enjoyed looking at all the cool stuff you can donate, everything from school materials to midwife training to mosquito nets. Liam set his mind on pigs, so we went together to the website, plancanada.ca/gifts, to shop. For $100, he could donate four pigs to families in Mozambique. We both thought this was perfect.
On his party invitations, Liam asked friends and family to make a donation to this project instead of bringing presents. He also let everyone know that he chose this project himself since he wanted to make sure children who may not get birthday presents get something on his special day. And he also likes pigs!
His birthday party was a success – the other parents loved the idea! – and Liam met his fundraising goal. He was thrilled to see his name and “Goal Achieved” on his own Plan Canada webpage.
Liam had a lot of fun, and he did get some great presents for himself. My hope is that with each year he will get more involved and excited about helping others less fortunate, and that together we are building the foundation for a life filled with compassion and consideration for others.
If you’d like more information on how you can arrange an alternative gift party like Liam, contact fundraising[email protected]